NC Harm Reduction Coalition's blog

The Science of Drug Overdose: Interview with Dr. Dasgupta

Interview with Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta, Scientist at Epidemico and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
By Tessie Castillo

If you work on overdose prevention in North Carolina, chances are you’ve heard the name Nabarun Dasgupta. From helping to found one of those most successful overdose prevention programs in the nation to delving into research on black market prices for prescription drugs, Nab has his fingers in all pieces of the pie. But he’s more than just a scientist or epidemiologist. Dasgupta may enjoy combing through matrices of poisoning data, but he also uses his findings to launch programs and interventions so that statistics are not just numbers on a spreadsheet, but life-saving tools to prevent overdose.

TC: Describe your work in overdose prevention in North Carolina over the years.

NC nonprofit starts dispensing life-saving antidote for drug overdose

On August 1, 2013, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition’s (NCHRC) Overdose Prevention Project (OPP) began dispensing naloxone in North Carolina as part of community-based overdose prevention training program. This program has been made possible under SB20, otherwise known as the “911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access” law. By this law, the NCHRC Medical Director, Dr. Logan Graddy, under a standing order, provides naloxone and supplies to administer the medications for patients or families of patients at high risk for overdose who have completed a NCHRC community-based overdose prevention training program.

Interview with NC's overdose-prevention hero

North Carolina’s recent passage of the 911 Good Samaritan / Naloxone Access law was a ground-breaking achievement in drug overdose prevention. The law passed through the combined efforts of local nonprofits, lawmakers, public health advocates and community members affected by overdose, and no one person could claim credit for an act which will surely save thousands of lives in North Carolina.

But there was one person who has been working behind the scenes in overdose prevention for over 10 years and whose research and advocacy helped lay the ground work for this legislation and future efforts. Though you don’t see her name much in the papers, Kay Sanford, retired State Injury Epidemiologist, is one of the heroes of overdose prevention advocacy in North Carolina.

Raleigh veteran supports new syringe access bill

Joe Donovan knows a thing or two about hard living. A few years ago the Raleigh-based veteran was diagnosed with a rare adrenal disorder, Addison’s Disease, which can cause fainting spells that require an emergency injection. Since his diagnosis in 2004, Donovan has been required to carry emergency medication and a syringe on him at all times, as well as to wear a bracelet explaining the disorder and how to administer the injections.

Not long after his diagnosis and the discovery of a tumor on his pituitary gland, Donovan lost his job. Soon after, with pending surgery and medical bills piling up, he became homeless. Over the next five years he was homeless twice, for as long as two years at a time. Living in homeless shelters with nothing but a backpack and some clothes, Donovan had many things to worry about, but among his concerns were the syringes he kept in his backpack along with the emergency medication. As a veteran, he obtained the syringes from the VA for his disorder and had every right to carry them, but because he was and subject to the same stereotypes about drug use that plague many homeless people, he often worried about run-ins with the police. Would they believe his story that the syringes were for a medical condition?

The reality condom: A safe alternative for sex work

By Samantha Korb

For sex workers, condom usage is extremely important to protect themselves against HIV and STIs, but in reality, this doesn’t always happen. A customer might pay much more for sex without a condom then sex with a condom, and depending on the day a sex worker has, the decision to not wear a condom may be one of necessity, then one of safety. Wearing a condom might be more risky in the short term if a sex worker is threatened with violence, or a sex worker has had something to drink. Based on these barriers, for sex workers to exclusively use the male condom during sexual contact might be unrealistic, unsafe, and a question of survival.

Sex Workers and Condom Use

Written by: India Johnson

The idea of using condoms is not as popular as it should be in today’s society. There are lots of people advocating for condom use, yet STD rates are steadily rising. One population in particular is at higher risk for contracting STDs the most; sex workers. When most people think of sex workers, they may think of a prostitute or someone who works on the street. While that description is sometimes true, the title “sex worker” is an overall name that sums up all activities in which a person provides sexual or sexual related services in exchange for money, drugs, housing or other favors. Sex workers can range from street workers, to strippers, all the way to high paid escorts. No matter what the title is the use of condoms are equally important.

The Stigma of Drug Overdose: A Mother’s Story

Denise Cullen has lived through one of the worst tragedies a mother can experience – losing a child. But if there is anything worse than losing a child, it is losing a child to a drug overdose, because grief is accompanied by stigma and blame.

Denise lost her only son, Jeff, when he was 27 years old to a fatal combination of morphine and Xanax. She remembers him as “warm, open, loving, bright and stubborn. He had a huge laugh and a fabulous smile,” she says. He was also impulsive and suffered from ADD.

The Tragedy of Drug Overdose: John Perkins Story

Liz Perkins was thrilled when her first child was a boy. She named him John, after his father and grandfather, and throughout his childhood years he was an adorable, active baby who climbed out of his crib early and got into everything.

John did well in school and was always the life of every party. But in college, a series of stressful events lead him to experiment with drugs, particularly opiate pain relievers like Percocet and Oxycontin.

Liz was shocked when she realized her little boy was addicted to drugs. “I spent every waking minute getting him help,” she says. “He and I had a close relationship. He was smart and had his whole life ahead of him and I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. I felt scared and alone.”

Addictions Counselor Speaks Out: “We Need 911 Good Samaritan Laws”

Interview with Anne Lamberti, Clinical Addiction Specialist

Add one more voice to the clamor for 911 Good Samaritan laws in North Carolina: substance abuse counselors. 911 Good Samaritan laws, which would allow witnesses to a drug overdose to call for help by removing criminal liability for drug possession for the victim and the caller, are gaining traction among the addictions treatment community. And who better to comment on drug policy than the professionals who face a parade of broken lives every day?

Anne Lamberti is a licensed clinical addiction specialist at Southlight Judicial Services in Wake County, North Carolina. She sees firsthand the devastation that drug addiction can cause. But she sees something else equally disturbing – people being arrested after calling 911 to save someone’s life.

Saving Lives Through Changing Laws

Legal Barriers to Overdose Prevention – Interview with Corey Davis, J.D., M.S.P.H. at Network for Public Health Law

Drug overdose from prescription painkillers is a serious epidemic, both in North Carolina and across the nation. In North Carolina alone, overdose death has approximately tripled in the last decade, up to 1000 deaths annually.

Many factors may contribute to the growing number of opiate-related deaths, including increased prescription of painkillers, an aging population, substitution away from illegal drugs, poor pain management, and lack of education and awareness of the signs and risks of overdose. But many legal barriers also stand in the way of effective overdose prevention. Corey Davis, an attorney with the Network for Public Health Law, has been studying these legal barriers and how a slight change to the law can translate into saving lives in NC.


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